Emerson Crew

'Derick' Emerson in the Pathfinders. Courtesy of George Emerson ('Tony')

The Emerson crew suffered a horrific accident on 21 February 1944. Their aircraft, which had been severely damaged over the target, broke up in mid-air on the edge of RAF Bourn and crashed, at twenty to eight in the morning, with the loss of the entire crew.





JB312A  F/L R.S.Emerson, F/Sgt J.Newell, F/O I.Worth, P/O J.A.Bartholomew, W/O R.Dickie, F/Sgt W.Duncan, F/Sgt G.W.Wood.
Up 0015  Down 0740.  4 flares, 4 x TI, 1 x 4000lb, 5 x 1000lb.  Successfully bombed target.  Collision with another aircraft over target and damage from flak.  Aircraft crashed on landing at base at Bourn airfield.  All of the crew were killed.

F/Lt R.S.Emerson and crew crashed on approaching to land on the runway – there were no survivors.  The aircraft had circled and been in touch with Control by R/T.  The captain stated that they were in difficulty, having collided over the target with another aircraft.  The aircraft was considerably damaged which no doubt was the cause of the aircraft diving into the ground some 300 yards short of the runway.  The aircraft was burnt and wreckage strewn about – seven bodies taken to SSQ Bourn.

Flying training etc carried out as per schedule.  In the morning the funeral took place at Cambridge Cemetery at 1100 hours, of those killed in the crash.  The following were buried :- F/L R.S.Emerson, P/O I.Worth (Aus) Nav, P/O J.A.Bartholomew A/B, W/O R.Dickie W/Op (Can), F/Sgt G.W.Wood A/G, F/Sgt J.Newell F/E.  Relatives of those living in this country attended.  The Flight Commander, Adjutant and 20 officers and NCO aircrew were also in attendance.  F/Sgt W.Duncan A/G was conveyed to be buried at his home town in Ireland.

emerson main portrait
‘Derick’ Emerson, probably in 1941-42, before joining the Pathfinders. Courtesy of George Emerson, ‘Tony’


Pilot:  Roderick Stanley Emerson, ‘Derick’
Flight Engineer: Albert Joseph Newell
Navigator: Irwin Worth
Bomb Aimer: John Arthur Bartholomew
W/Op: Robert James Dickie
Mid-Upper Gunner: Geoffrey Walter Wood, ‘Geoff’
Rear gunner: William Garfield Duncan, ‘Billy’

The Flight Engineer

emerson - albert joseph newell
Albert Joseph Newell, courtesy of Sandra Perfect

Both Wood and Duncan came from other crews.

Wood had originally flown with Johnny Sauvage’s crew.

geoffrey wood with sauvage
Geoffrey Wood (far left) when on Johnnie Sauvage’s crew, Sauvage (far right).

William Duncan had been on McEgan‘s crew. He missed the fatal night when the crew was lost, but survived them by only two months.

Emerson - William Duncan2
Billy Duncan when on the McEgan crew
Because the crash was in plain sight of so many at RAF Station Bourn, there are several accounts of the loss of the aircraft including the official loss report.

Official Loss Report (Irwin Worth personnel file, NAA: A705, 166/44/109)
loss report emerson crew

Diary Entry about the Loss of A-Apple by John Fairbairn, W/Op on the Perkins’ crew

Feb 20-21 Stuttgart
[…] home 6.30. Mac and I watched Apple come in with belly shot away, stalled and burned on approach.
(Mac is almost certainly M H McBride, the rear gunner on the crew at that time.)


DES EVANS – Flight Mechanic at Bourn – RECOLLECTIONS, JANUARY 2009
My recollection is seeing Emerson’s Lancaster circling the Airfield low enough for us to see a gaping hole on the Port side of the Fuselage. It had to be that side as it was circling above us and in a left circuit. The reason he had to keep circling was because other Lancasters were waiting to come in, so he had no option but to wait.
Obviously Air Control anticipated he was going to have problems and would probably close down the airfield if he came in and crashed blocking the runways.
[…] When he did start his approach he was approaching quite straight, then as he neared the Landing strip I suppose at about 200 feet the Lancaster just folded midway down the fuselage and fell apart, both sections hurtled to the ground. It was an awful sight. These guys could see for at least half an hour before that final approach the runway and all the activity going on and expecting to be with us soon.
My own conclusion for what it’s worth is because of that gaping hole, the Lancaster was stable as long as Emerson was able to maintain a flying speed; once the approach was being made and the last descent was being put into operation, the Pilot would order his Flight Engineer to throttle back – with that hole in the fuselage he would need both his hands holding the Lancaster on a straight line. The weight of the aircraft would then increase dramatically and the strain with such a large fracture in the fuselage would be too much, hence it would literally break up.
As to why they didn’t bale out, it’s possible – as they had been hit by another Lancaster over the target and sustained damage – that perhaps a couple of the crew’s parachutes were damaged. At a height of possibly 20000 feet on a bombing raid a collision ripping a hole could create a suction of a considerable force – anything loose near the hole would be sucked out.

See also: Two South Americans in 97 Squadron, PFF

With many thanks to David Layne, Kyt, Kevin Bending, Des Evans, Norah Fairbairn for the John Fairburn diary entry, and Billy Duncan’s niece.